The toadstools glisten in the autumn rain. Evanora Everett pulls her black cloak tighter around her shoulders as she approaches her coven leader’s home. It’s a quaint cottage, English in style and at odds with the nearest neighbors. Water soaks through Evanora’s pointed black boots, and her black kitten splashes alongside her. Familiars don’t mind water. They don’t mind much. They’re said to be braver than witches themselves sometimes.
Through the iron gate of the garden and into the gathering hall, Evanora and her kit invite themselves in. All twelve members of the coven are already present, but not one looks up when they enter. Evanora has a reputation for her tardiness. She scoops up Freddy, her kitten, and takes her place in the back row, end chair.
Circe Harper, the eldest witch, stands up from her seat at the front and lays her cane across the chair. “Samhain approaches sisters. We must prepare to pay tribute to our ancestors and ready any spells or potions for the world beyond. You know the rules. No divination from now until the veil is sealed. Faeries can interfere, and if we allow them, they will control our fate.” Despite her curving spine and sagging skin, she holds herself upright, as straight as age and nature will allow. “I open the floor to the coven principals.”
Three women rise. Each represents a faction of the whole: one middle-aged, one early adult, and one teenager. Witches have a place in the coven at age 13, though they’re not full witches until 19. Each faction meets separately to discuss their concerns with their principal who then voices these concerns at the monthly coven meetings. It’s dry and political. Evanora despises the mini-meetings and the principal reports.
The principals have little this month. Circe nods as each woman speaks, but the familiars in the room shift restlessly, licking paws and rustling feathers. When the final principal sits, the entire coven moves to their feet. Circe waves her hand to silence the chatter. “We have one additional matter of business, the missing child.”
A ripple of indignation flows through the crowd. Circe raises her hand once more. “As many of you know, some humans are spreading rumors that an old crone is behind this. That only a witch could make a child vanish in daylight. While this theory is generally known to be an unbelievable, impossible conspiracy, the closer we get to Halloween, as they call it, without a child or a body, they will become more inclined to lash out. Though they will not suspect the whole coven, some members are more vulnerable than others. Travel in twos, but avoid suspicion. Only plain clothes unless indoors. No odd purchases. Keep your tools in a safe location until this passes.”
“Sisters, why have we not tried locating the child ourselves?” the teenage principal, sixteen-year-old Morgan Andrews, asks. Her green eyes burn with frustration.
Evanora holds her tongue between her teeth, and Freddy kneads her jeans. Morgan used to put her faith in Circe, but since starting high school, the girl has mastered over half of the coven’s spell book and thinks herself more powerful and intelligent than most of the coven.
“We have tried. The Faeries have her,” The no-nonsense, middle-aged principal, Phoebe Harper, replies. Phoebe is Circe’s niece.
“So let’s get the girl back on Samhain. We’ll take her from the Faeries and return her.” Morgan sticks her hands into her pockets as her raven familiar bristles with pride.
“It’s not that simple,” Evanora blurts. “Kidnapping the child will begin a war with the Faery folk. That’s a war that neither side wants and one that we can’t finish. The last war with the faeries almost ended the Everett bloodline. A human child isn’t worth it.”
Morgan turns to Evanora as does the entire coven. “The child is a means to an end. Rescuing the child will make the humans accept our coven. We will be free to practice magic and carry on.”
“And the humans will just accept that faeries are real? They’ll take our word for it that we rescued the kid from beyond the veil and we didn’t take her initially ourselves?” Evanora’s face heats as she meets the eye of every witch in the coven, landing last on Circe. Circe’s pale blue eyes are almost totally white. Her thin lips twist up slightly, encouraging and agreeing.
Morgan starts in with a counterargument, but Evanora raises her hand. Stunned, Morgan falls silent. Evanora feels Freddy stiffen with his eyes locked on Morgan’s raven. “We protect our own. We stay out of human affairs.”
Morgan’s shoulders slump. “I used to babysit her.”
Freddy leaps across the room, climbing his way onto Morgan’s chair. He sniffs her, and rubs his head against her arm.
Circe holds her moonstone necklace in one hand and addresses the coven with her other. “We will honor this child’s sacrifice. Alive or passed, she is allowing our worlds to live in peace. Praise to the Goddess.”
The entire coven raises their hands. Evanora meets Morgan’s eyes. Beneath the despair, a fire still burns in them. “Praise to the Goddess.”
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